When Eric Michael Gillett decided to sing on screen, he could’ve taken an easy route and repeated the last show performed before COVID. Instead, the artist created a new, deeply personal piece rising from the scorched landscape of last year like a determined phoenix. Material is carefully chosen – often eclectic and cogently sequenced to illuminate trajectory.
“Common’ my friends/Let’s see this sweet beginning through to the bitter end…” His voice is full, lush, all-in. “Sweet Beginning” (Leslie Bricusse/ Anthony Newley) When a boy is caught unawares and tossed in the water, we share his airborne fear. “…and I swaaaam!” Gillett sings, exhilarated. At 16, the boy agrees to an adventure, then backs out. “Life is meant to be lived on the edge/Next time I won’t fear the ledge/I’ll jump.” “I’ll Jump”(Paul Loesel/ Scott Burkell) The long note summons chills.
John Mayer/Pino Palladino’s “Stop That Train” describes the inexorable momentum of aging. Shoulders rise and deflate. There’s a halting moment and palpable entreaty. “This was the last song I sang before lockdown. It was like a cry to the universe. Who knew the universe was listening? What the hell happened in the middle?” Gillett tells us he took up German. “My friend Robin took up the spinning wheel, so what’s German to this?” And bought a treadmill on which laundry now hangs. Monologue (patter is too insubstantial a word) is well written, sympathetic and wry, if a bit too long.
When the artist finally ventured out, the sky was blue, streets almost deserted. A tandem “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” (Kenneth King) and “Everybody’s Out of Town” (Burt Bacharach/Hal David) reflects surprise, adjustment, and resolve. (Song lead-ins are organic.) “In the early months of the lockdown, I was completely filled with rage…I wanted to yell (he looks up) ‘Were ya bored?’”
Like many of us, Gillett fell asleep early and woke in the middle of the night turning to classic films for solace. Craig Carnelia’s “Old Movies,” a signature song, has never sounded so contextually right. Every conjured actor is met with recognition and enthusiasm. We see what he sees and, as the song progresses, feel him reel. Observing neighbors moving out, he considers it as well, but can’t bring himself to sever what he calls the longest consistent relationship he’s had, with New York. George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” becomes a love song to the city. The vocal is all heart.
Rumination on human love follows. “Sometimes we’re so busy looking for chemical reaction, we forget just making connection is what we need.” “I need a voice to echo/ I need a light to take me home/I kinda need a hero/Is that you?” “Nightingale” (Felicia Barton/Demi Lovato/Anne Preven/ Matt Radosevich) Gillett is quiet, plaintive, but not without hard won pride. His eyes intermittently close. Not a single gesture arrives without motivation.
A student of human nature, and attentive actor, he observed how people were coping. The next part of the show offers character studies. Suddenly the performer’s bearing changes, a New Yawk accent emerges. “Joe” (Craig Carnelia), another familiar portrayal, is rough-cut and tenderhearted. Having retired too early he strives for satisfaction in little things. Gillett steps into his skin. You want to buy the guy a beer and listen. Back home after a day out, spirits precipitously flag. It’s moving.
A man looks in the mirror disconcerted at what he sees and puts on drag make-up to become herself in “Mascara” (Jerry Herman from La Cage aux Folles). Body language becomes feminine. When his hand caresses ostrich feathers, we almost see them. Gillett’s rich baritone is uncompromised; the rest of the actor has morphed.
“On and on you grasp and guess/ And search for patterns in the mess…” Tim Minchin’s “Night Will Come” chronicles going forward as a matter of will. “…As for the rest, it’s just a test of your endurance…” Dar Williams “After All” acknowledges outcome: “And now I laugh at how the world changed me/I think life chose me after all…” Recasting one’s destiny is a challenge. Finely gauged and lilting, Jacque Brel’s “Days of the Waltz” looks back. Every word rises clearly from long, seemingly effortless breaths.The artist’s face lights up. Round and round till we glimpse the furies. Many cry out here, not Gillett. He internalizes pain.
“So I finally got to the present. Things are looking up, but we keep getting reports. I remind myself to tote up what I’ve learned. I don’t want it to be my old normal.” Peter Mills’ “It’s Amazing the Things That Float” brims with counterintuitive gratitude and anticipation in the aftermath of loss. “Maybe the things that disappeared/Are the things I wanted to sink…” he sings, vocal as unabashedly open as his arms. Craig Carnelia’s “What the Song Should Say” ends with the here, poignant,“and we should be in the song.”
Gillett closes with “Without a Stitch On” (i.e. naked) a song written by MD/pianist Mike Pettry. “…about bringing with us only what we have to bring.” It’s deft, amusing metaphor, presented with priceless facial expressions and comic timing. The performer removes his jacket , belt, and shoes. “I don’t care if anybody sees or points at this or that or these (he indicates) So what if I freeze…” He slips out of and tosses away his pants. This is my first experience with Pettry who delivers at every turn, symbiotic, eloquent, and at the last, funny.
My only disappointment is that an actor otherwise skilled in front of the camera (not true of most who sing cabaret) was apparently directed to look down, ostensibly from a raised stage depriving us of his eyes/direct gaze throughout.
Jump/Cut is a marvelous show, pungent and entertaining, an example of Gillett’s prodigious, galvanizing talent.
Photos by Tricia Baron
Eric Michael Gillett
Mike Pettry- MD/Piano
A production of Studio A- Metropolitan Zoom